Bern - Old Town

One of the most picturesque cities in all of Europe, Bern is the capital city of Switzerland. The old part of the city is built throughout curves in the green watered Aare River. Being built on a hill, the old town is a bit of a challenge to walk around, but gives you some fabulous viewpoints in many spots.   One of the most wonderful aspects of the city is that they have attempted to make the majority of the city pedestrian only.  It is not completely car free, but it creates a very walkable and pedestrian friendly city.  It is truly a gem in the center of Europe.

Things you MUST see/do:

Bear Park – The name of the city, Bern, is the German word for Bear, and as a result the city has been home to numerous bears since the 16th century.  The bears have been moved to different locations in the city, but made it to their current location in the city in 1857.  This Bear Park is located at the east end of the city right on the Aare River.  The original bear enclosure at this location was near the river, but had no access to river and was made completely of cement.  Due to the poor conditions for the bears, a new enclosure that includes a grass area and a “fishing area” for the bears was opened in 2009.

Bern’s 11 Historic Fountains – The eleven fountains were erected in the 16th century, as a show of Bern’s wealth. At the time they were an important source of water for the people of Bern.  These fountains used a water way running underground (early plumbing) to supply fresh water that is still there today! They are spread throughout the entire old town, and are very elaborately carved structures.  It is worthwhile to try to find all eleven, due to the detailed artwork, showcasing a different theme for each fountain.

Munster Cathedral – The location in Munsterplatz has had a church since the 13th century.  The current building began being erected in 1421.  The Munster Cathedral is made in the late gothic style and its spire is the tallest in Switzerland.  Though most of the elaborate detailing of the church was removed during the Reformation, there are a couple of great works of art that remain.  The main portal or entryway contains an exquisite gold piece that describes the Last Judgement.  It is possible to enter the church and climb the tower (extra fee).  Also, check out the Munster Platform (or terrace) beside the church.  It was built in the 1980’s partly from pieces that were found on the site that were removed from the church.  From the platform, there is a great look over the Aare River and surrounding city (don’t miss the bear statue on the river).

Barenplatz – The Barenplatz is the location of a few important buildings.  The first is the Prison Tower which was part of a gate in the original Bern town wall.  It also served as a prison for woman until 1897 and it is a splendid building to look at.  The next building is the Dutch Tower which is located a few buildings down from the Prison Tower.  It is believed to be a part of the old town wall as well, but it is unclear when it was built.  Also check out the Mossy Fountain which is the work of Meret Oppenheim.  The fountain is a bit of an eyesore according to the Bernese, but that makes it something to see.  Last in the square is the Kornhauskeller restaurant which was built in a huge wine cellar below ground.  The décor is well suited to its surroundings.  It is something to see, even if not eating at the restaurant.

Parliament Buildings – The dome topped Parliament was built in many different stages and was not completed until 1902.  They have created a wonderful structure to look at.  It is possible to tour the building for a fee.  The square in front of the buildings is also a nice location.  Notice the in ground fountains (26 of them to represent each of Switzerland’s cantons).  This square is also the location of many different events, including markets, celebrations, and even (as we experienced) a beach volleyball tournament. 

Kirchenfeld Bridge – This Bridge is a short distance from the Parliament Buildings’ terrace and is a great location to see some scenery of the city and the mountains.

The Bern Casino – The “casino” building in Bern’s old town is not actually a casino like those in Las Vegas.  The casino is the home to Bern’s Symphony Orchestra and tickets can be bought for performances.

Einstein Haus – Einstein Haus is an apartment in Bern where Albert Einstein lived in the early 20th century.  The apartment has been restored to the way it was when Einstein was living there for tourists to see how he lived.

Zytglogge-Turm – The Zytglogge-Turm is a tower that contains a mechanical clock.  The clock was built in the 16th century, and was the primary clock that kept time in that era.  The tower was also used to measure distances out throughout Bern’s surrounding area.  The show is supposed to begin 4 minutes before the hour.  Like many other mechanical clocks, it is not the most exciting show, but when you consider it was made so long ago it is more impressive.

Holy Ghost Church –The church is located just outside the Train Station in the old town.  There has been a church at this location since the 13th century.  The current building was built in the 18th century in a baroque style with local sandstone.  It is the sandstone that gives the church and many other Bernese buildings their grey-green smooth surface.  The church of the Holy Ghost is a Protestant church.

Old Tram Depot – The former tram station has been converted into a tourist information center and a brewery restaurant.  The tourist information center has some interesting information on the history of Bern, including a video.  Check out our experiences for more information on the restaurant.

Travels4Couples highly recommended EXPERIENCES:

View the Mountains, Gurten and Aare River – Make sure to go behind the Parliament buildings to its terrace to see the view.  It is spectacular!  The terrace looks out to the Aare River, Gurten (Bern’s ski hill), and on a clear day the Alps as a back drop.  There are very few places in the world that have better views!

Eat at the Brewery Restaurant – the Brewery Restaurant is located at the Old Tram Station, just up the hill from the Bear Park.  Sit out on the patio and enjoy some excellent views of the Aare River, the Old Town and, at the edge, even the Bear Park.  Try to order some traditional Swiss Pub food, like Bavarian Sausage.  Great place for a meal!  Head downstairs on the way out and see the brewery.

Shop in the “Cellars” – Kramgasse is an extra-wide cobblestone street in the heart of Bern’s old town.All of the buildings surrounding Kramgasse contain cellars.  These have been used for many different purposes through the centuries, mainly to store the goods of the patrons of the buildings.  However, the cellars have now been converted into shops.  The shops tend to be quaint little shops carrying many different items.

Shop on Spitalgasse –The main shopping street in Bern is Spitalgasse.  It contains many of the large brand stores seen throughout Switzerland (and the world in some cases).  There are some great shops and items to find along this stretch of road.

Eat at Restaurant Della Casa – The Restaurant Della Casa is a truly Swiss German restaurant.  They serve delicious dishes like schnitzel and the restaurant is run like a small mom and pop restaurant.  It is a delicious meal, a wonderful setting, and a great experience of what it is like to be in Bern.

Travels4Couples #1 ROMANTIC thing to do in Bern:

Wander through the Rose Garden – Take a walk up the hill near the Old Tram Depot to the Rose Garden.  At the top of the hill (which is quite steep, so be careful), is the Rose Garden Restaurant and the Garden itself beside it.  The restaurant is a nice place for a meal with a great view, however, the best idea is to wonder through the garden and to see all the flowers and get the amazing view!  This is a common spot for Bernese people to come and enjoy a day.